Starting July 27, Midwestern retailer Hy-Vee will hand out 3 million masks to customers coming to the stores who do not have them. The retailer does not require masks to be worn within its 265 stores. The distribution is part of its new “Mask It Up To Shut COVID Down. It’s Your Choice” initiative that is an effort to support Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to wear a mask when in public.
“We are highly recommending the wearing of masks in our stores, which is why we are being proactive in handing out millions of masks to customers across our eight states at no cost,” said Christina Gayman, director of public relations in an email to WGB. “The wearing of masks in public is mandated in several states and/or communities where Hy-Vee has locations. Hy-Vee will continue to follow all guidance provided by state/local officials in each of its communities where its stores are located.”
Gayman noted that the retailer is not mandating masks in stores companywide to avoid confrontations between staff and customers and is taking a more educational approach with customers with its new initiative. The initiative follows calls from the group Iowa Educators for a Safe Return to School, which had asked the retailer to require masks in stores to help keep the communities safe and be a role model.
Mask-wearing within retail stores has been recommended by the National Retail Federation, which has called for a nationwide policy of requiring masks to be worn within all retail stores to protect the health of both customers and staff. Many retailers have followed suit. However, the issue has become a political and emotional one for consumers, with many reports of customers becoming angry when asked to put one on; the exact situation Hy-Vee is trying to avoid by not implementing a mask mandate.
“Shopping in a store is a privilege, not a right. If a customer refuses to adhere to store policies, they are putting employees and other customers at undue risk,” the NRF said in a statement. “Workers serving customers should not have to make a critical decision as to whether they should risk exposure to infection or lose their jobs because a minority of people refuse to wear masks in order to help stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus.”